Covington and local Chamber of Commerce officials spent an hour and a half Monday discussing plans to attract tourists and talented professional residents, and one local group believes the Yellow River can play a major part in reaching both goals.
Tonya Bechtler, with the nonprofit Yellow River Water Trail, told the Covington City Council that she believes promoting the Yellow River as a recreational destination will help the community cash in on tourists taking overnight trips. Those tourists spent more than $2 billion in 2011 on fishing, camping, boating/sailing and rafting in Georgia, she said.
While rafting accounted for the smallest portion, at $194 million, Bechtler said kayaking is a growing industry and said 20.9 percent of all Georgia tourists listed "outdoor recreation" as one of their main areas of interest, according to the state tourism department. In a handout, she said there are approximately 1 million paddlers – which includes people who use kayaks, canoes and paddle boats – in Georgia.
The nonprofit group is working to create a 47.5-mile, designated water trail from Gwinnett County to where the river ends at Jackson Lake, and Bechtler said the best part is the fact the water trail is already in place and won’t cost money to build.
Porterdale has been taking the lead on developing access to the river, which runs right through the city’s downtown, including developing a park next to the river and putting in kayak and canoe access points. A kayak rental company, the Porterdale Yak Club, also opened next to the river in Porterdale.
Porterdale is having conversations about adding yurts, tent-like cabins, to the park next to the river, so visitors could camp overnight as they paddle down the river. Bechtler said overnight visitors would shop at local restaurants and could purchase goods from local recreational outfitters.
The Yellow River doesn’t run through Covington’s city limits, but the city does have a tributary — Dried Indian Creek — that runs into the river.
Bechtler said the river’s water quality is tested regularly and grades well — it’s safe for people to swim in — but the nonprofit group has had to clean up multiple litter piles on the river. Bechtler is meeting with all cities and counties through which the river runs or which have a tributary that feeds into the river and asking them for support.
"Litter is 100 percent preventable," Bechtler said, saying most of the trash is plastic and Styrofoam from the county’s "disposable culture."
The Covington City Council voted unanimously to sign a resolution in support of the nonprofit’s efforts.
Bechtler said access is increasing all along the Yellow River, noting that the Boy Scouts of America recently cleaned up a portion of the river near Bert Adams Scout Reservation off Ga. Highway 36. The Boy Scouts will put in a canoe launch on their property and have voted to adopt the portion of the river from Porterdale to Jackson Lake to keep it clean.
The Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority recently added an access point near a pump station off the Access Road near the Riverside Estates Mobile Home Park and the bridge that crosses the Yellow River.
She said the authority is looking to add another access point off Stephenson Road, which is off Flat Shoals Road.
An access point will be added at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers in the future as well. A huge trash pile was cleaned up near the Horse Park last month.
She also said property owners along the river also can provide access points for kayakers and noted that those who provide such access are 100 percent absolved of any liability.
The group plans to add signs and informational kiosks at access points as funds allow in the future; currently, all expenses are paid out of members’ pockets, Bechter said.
There are 13 established water trails in Georgia and eight under development, including the Yellow River.
The Yellow River Water Trail group meets once a month on a rotating Wednesday; visit the group’s Facebook page for more details.